But the fact that Gordon showed he could produce efficiently on the floor while being counted on to do more than just spot up for 3-pointers and pick up the rest of his points in the flow of the game is almost as important to the team as Blake dunking all over initial expectations and probably more important than DeAndre becoming an effective player within his role.
With Chris Kaman yet again spending the majority of an NBA season in a suit and Baron Davis playing only 43 games in a Clippers uniform, EJ made the most of his expanded offensive opportunities on the court. You should be able to count on a third -year, top-ten lottery pick becoming more than just an average performer in the NBA, but EJ still had to prove it and, to his credit, he did so.
Before last season EJ was looked at as a solid if unspectacular perimeter threat. Now? Things are looking great. In fact,if EJ’s performance over the course of this past season is representative of the future (outside of injury trouble), then the Clippers are looking at at least an All-Star-level shooting guard for years to come. Despite a drop in his 3-point shooting, Gordon managed a player efficiency rating (PER) of over 15 (NBA average) for the first time in his career. In fact, EJ finished with a mark of 18.56 — decidedly above average and good for 6th best among shooting guards.
So, now we know the Clippers have a dangerous, multi-talented shooting guard that can carry the offensive load when Blake is struggling or in foul trouble, and can be given the ball in crunch time to create his own shot to close a game out when Blake’s free throw shooting could be a problem or when you don’t want to take a chance with Mo Williams.
Gordon didn’t always give you that feeling, though, even last season. When the team is just throwing the ball into the post and working off of Blake, it’s easy to forget about the importance of another playmaker on offense. But as teams began doubling Blake and locking down the easy pass out from the post, the Clippers had to turn to EJ as more of a creator, and it worked well. He’s a top finisher as a pick-and-roll ball handler (according to Synergy Sports), was able to do damage off of screens and, when being used as a compliment rather than creator, is always dangerous spotting up. He isn’t really a danger to break his defender down one-on-one, but he doesn’t particularly have to do that even with the team’s current construction, much less when the team brings in its (hypothetical) superstar
And we know that nearly any team regardless of roster construction can make the playoffs by adding a superstar like Dwight Howard or Chris Paul. But beyond having Blake Griffin in place to do damage on the inside, a skilled perimeter shooter/finisher who can handle the ball with efficiency like Eric Gordon, too, is key to a team that doesn’t want to just make the playoffs, but win in the playoffs. When you have a once-in-a-generation player like Griffin and are preparing as an organization to make a big addition, you have to have a guy like EJ contributing like he did last season to help push the team over the top. So, good for the Clips!
And as the roster continues to take form, EJ should become only more effective and efficient. The offensive focus should (hypothetically) shift away from guys like Mo Williams, Chris Kaman, Randy Foye and Co., and double down on the individual talents of Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, and Future Final Piece.
The key here is obviously that no matter what star the Clippers (again, hypothetically) add, Blake and EJ should complement them and vice versa. In a perfect world, Howard and Griffin would theoretically function as a post tandem, while still able to work with Gordon in a post-and-kick/pick-and-roll/floor-spreader situation. Probably a better fit would be adding a talented point in Deron Williams or Chris Paul, who by their natures, maximize other scoring threats on their respective teams.
But what if the Clippers don’t land a true star? Do Blake and EJ have enough collective talent to lead a capable offensive team while being surrounded by role players? How far would we expect a team like the Clippers to go in that scenario?
It’s hard to say.
Certainly, there have been teams that have found a certain level of playoff success while even being led by a player of a similar mold to EJ — again assuming he maintains last season’s high level of production. But could I see a future incarnation of the Clippers going to the Finals (as wild a dream as that may seem like with the franchise’s history) with EJ as the perimeter scoring threat for the team?
It doesn’t seem impossible, in my eyes.
Heck, the Pacers once made the Finals with Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson leading the way (and both at age 34). Blake and Eric seem to have excellent chemistry offensively, and EJ has the looks of a more-than-solid isolation defender. We can expect both to continue their growth as players for years to come, as well.
Just as important, the team is in position to retain both of them well into their prime. Even if the team fails to add a Howard in the middle or a Chris Paul on the perimeter (or whoever floats your boat), the Clippers might have enough to compete in the playoffs going forward with EJ as the number two option (with Blake leading the way, of course), if a couple of other variables fall into place.
Then again, I’ve warned before that plenty of things can go wrong even with a young core in place, so don’t let my optimism lead you into over-confidence in the future.
All that aside, the Clips’ man on the inside Blake is great, but the point is this — don’t overlook the importance of budding perimeter threat Eric Gordon to the future of the team. At the very least, he’s set to be the team’s X-factor going forward, and perhaps even more important than that.